For some time now, our society has been paying more and more attention to what we eat, the way we live, just trying to live healthy. More and more we run, ride a bike go to a fitness club or to a swimming pool. We pay a lot of attention to what we eat- we tend to choose organic products. We tend to choose an organically grown apple that may not be as visually appealing as a beautiful apple that has been grown using chemicals.
And here is where my adventure with microbiological greenkeeping begins.
I have been a greenkeeper for almost twenty years. Five years ago I started to think about the fact that the plant protection products that I use in the field poison me and my employees, but also you - golfers. It was then that I decided to start looking into methods of grass care that significantly limited the use of chemicals.
And I came across the method of Ian Macmillan.
I was hired at a golf course in Cologne, Germany where I used this method and began to explore its secrets. With huge support from Ian, to this day my mentor, I quickly became convinced that it was possible to maintain a golf course at a high standard without the use of chemicals. This was contrary to what I had been hearing for years at conferences and seminars where chemical inputs are an integral part of the lectures. But I was seeing the proof with my own eyes on the golf course- the turf was lush and healthy, with long roots underneath.
Then I understood that we greenkeepers, and you the golfers have a choice- use harmful chemicals on our golf courses, or get the same results using natural methods. Just like that apple in the store, if it´s possible to get a quality product without the use of chemicals, why wouldn´t I make that decision?
During many seminars, I heard that much more chemicals are used on agricultural fields than on sports turf. While this may be true, are you walking on a farm field every day? Do your children play there? Do we play golf on those fields several times a week? And on those farmers fields do you pick up your golf ball, lick it clean to make sure you have a clean ball to putt with? I think the answer to that is „no.“ So we would do this on the golf course where the head greenkeeper might have to decide to spray a chemical in the morning before you play?
I do not want to frighten you but make you aware that YOU HAVE A CHOICE.
Using Ian's method, we try to listen to nature and work with her and not make her our slave with the use chemicals, because everytime we use chemicals we kill the disease infecting our turf, but we also kill all of the good micro-organisims in the soil as well.
Our goal is to create the perfect conditions for microlife in the soil and in return we get healthy, strong and resistant plants. Plants are just like humans, if we are healthy, active, and eat properly we are much less likely to become sick. We listen to what the grass needs and satisfy its needs.
Why do I write to you golfers and not greenkeepers?
I have met many greenkeepers and they are very interested in this natural method of greenkeeping because their health is also important for them. But the main factor that is holding them back is the fear that managers, owners, and golfers will not be happy during the transition from chemical based greenkeeping to natural because the expectation is for the golf course to be in the best condition at all times. What you have to realize is that while there may be challenges during this transition period and that conditions may suffer a little bit, these changes are being done for the health of the turf, the greenkeeping staff, and of course you, the golfer.
This transition is the main problem I have been dealing with at my current golf course. Three years ago Ian called me and asked if I would be willing to help him with a golf course in Estonia that was struggling using his method. I met with the owner and club manager in Germany and they convinced me to come visit the golf course and discuss the posibility of me helping them out.
The golf course was beautiful, but the condition of the grass was very poor. The European Amateur Championships, the largest golf event for amateurs in Europe, was to take place there in a few months so getting the course in good shape as quickly as possible was of the utmost importance As I love challenges I accepted their offer to become head greenkeeper. After getting my affairs in order in Germany, three weeks later I moved to Estonia. And three days after starting work at Estonian Golf and Country Club (EGCC) I regreted my decision.
Three days after starting as head greenkeeper there was a meeting with club members who seemed prepared to put Ian and myself infront of a firing squad for the poor quality of the golf course. After a long discussion I was able to convince them to give me a chance to show them that Ian´s natural method of greenkeeping can work.
The golf course began to make improvements every day. The greenkeeping team put in many long hours preparing for the European Championships, and with the correct implementation of Ian´s methodolgy we were able to make the European Amateur Championship a great success.
With the improved quality of the golf course, my relationship with the membership started to improve as well. During my first few months working at EGCC one thing that was very important to me was to keep the golfers informed of what we were doing and why we were doing it. I wanted to keep open lines of communication with the golfers to keep them as informed as possible. Eventually I even started to see golfers smiling and giving me a „thumbs up“ which was the best reward I could have asked for.
Now golfers are telling me that this is the best condition they have ever seen EGCC. The conditions have been so good infact that two other golf courses in Estonia have asked for help after seeing how pleased our golfers are
Approximately 70 of golf courses in Europe use Macmillan methodolgy and have high quality playing surfaces. That is why I am convinced your golf course can too!
I want to tell you that YOU HAVE A CHOICE in how your golf course is maintained. Greenkeeping without harmful chemicals is possible!
It is possible, and the choice is yours!!
Estonian Golf and Country Club
And now, for those interested, a little more about microbiological greenkeeping by Ian Macmillan
“What’s this?” you ask. Well, it’s the name we have chosen to describe our approach to the understanding of soil and plant amendments which is becoming common place in the world of greenkeeping. I have done much research on soil biotic and abiotic for a few years now and have purposed mainly carbohydrate inclusion and compost tea application with great success.
What is soil biota? Soil biota is the biological powerhouse of soil and without it, soil is merely (DIRT) with it, the soil becomes the complete solution to plant health. It becomes an incredible diversity of organisms which can include micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, and algae), animals as in (protozoa, nematodes, mites, springtails, spiders, insects, and earthworms). Soil biota are concentrated in plant litter, the upper few inches of soil, and along roots. Soil organisms interact with one another, with plant roots, and with their environment, forming the SOIL FOOD WEB.
What do soil biota do?
As soil organisms consume organic matter and each other, nutrients and energy are exchanged through the food web and made available to the grass plant this is much departed from chemical feedings which could be described as an (ionic soluble intravenous drip) where the plant has no control to its requirements. The bulk of the soil biota is made up of microscopic bacteria and fungi which in turn act as a food source for nematodes and protozoa they also go on to the process of the decomposition and in breaking down organic matter they store its energy and nutrients in their cells. Its worthy of a mention to make realisation that algae and fungi are the first organisms to colonize rock and form “new” soil by releasing substances that disintegrate the rock.
Healing the soil
Withdrawing ‘drug abuse’ and putting your soil into rehabilitation would be our starting point to restoring the biology of the soil and the grass plant this would be the first stage of full recovery of renewed life. Let’s realise the chemical fertiliser, often derived from petroleum and are pollutants, which cause a die off and population change of soil microbes along with harmful tissue changes within the grass. Those tissue changes in my opinion, promote the incidence of pathogens like powdery mildew, fusarium, and many others. The greenkeeper then ends up in a vicious spiralling downward fall as they use one chemical after another to control the effects brought on by previous chemical.
Growing from a Microbial Perspective
Coming to an understanding of how natural growing really works, you must cast off previous miscomprehensions from chemical practices, (that when we add food we are feeding the plant); this is not the case. With true natural feeding we are feeding the microorganisms within the soil and on the surface of the plant which convert organic nutrients into a form which can be assimilated by the roots and leaves of the grass. However, a clearer understanding of true biology is for another day and I would purpose to introduce you to one method of restoring the biota of your greens through Compost Tea.
What is compost Tea?
In simple terms compost tea is a water-based environment wherein beneficial microorganisms are extracted from compost or vermi-compost and multiplied by millions and billions. We add oxygen with a good quality air pump which blows off chlorine before adding our compost that has been placed into a good quality hessian sack allowing us to shake it from time to time to loosen off its precious cargo of micro life. At this point it is crucial to add a feed for the bacteria, fungi, etc. to multiply the mass and being careful to use the right feeding programme for the type of tea required as it is imperative to change the brews to achieve the results expected of this liquid magic.
The end result of the brew which can be achieved from 20 to 30 hours is a functional feeding cycle or microbial nutrient cycle which we call Microbial Consortia. This consortium of liquid compost is mainly made up of major microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa which are mainly comprised of flagellates, ciliates, and amoeba and fungal hyphae if present in your compost. Higher order organisms like nematodes will not grow nor multiply in the tea but will survive if added to the tea bag. So, all in all Gentlemen, the next time you reach for the chemical, pause, and put the kettle on!
Think, You have a CHOICE